Creative

That Makes Two of Us

1

“When she looked over and smiled at me, I should have just turn and run,” the prisoner said to the guard.

“That sure would have saved you some trouble,” the guard said. “Now, here you are, in for the long haul.”

The prisoner, in his faded and worn jumpsuit, looked at the guard and knew he ought to have kept the conversation going, but he was simply too tired to respond. The guard, whose name the prisoner knew was Sposa, didn’t usually talk much anyway.

“Turn around,” Sposa said. The prisoner did so, and the guard released the shackles, then stepped out of the cell and closed it shut with that metal locking sound that rang out with crushing finality.

The prisoner was alone again in his small cell. He fell onto his thin, stained mattress, and intertwined his hands behind his head. He stared up at the same cracks and moldy spots in the ceiling that he had looked at hundreds of times before. He imagined them as continents in an ocean and made up stories about the people who lived on them. He even named them, each crack and spot.

No one ever tells you before you go to prison that the worst thing is the isolation, the prisoner thought to himself. He thought to himself a lot. He thought to himself all day long. He had entire philosophical debates with himself. He argued both sides of a case. He told himself entire stories. He relived events from his past and critiqued his actions and reactions.

He replayed over and over in his head the events that brought him to the prison. He made lists of all the things he could have done differently. He imagined what would have happened had it been raining that night, instead of clear out. The woman might never have smiled at him. Her husband might never have seen that smile. The blood might never have spilled.

The prisoner was utterly and completely alone. He was a star in the night sky, surrounded by millions of light years of nothing. He was like a guitar stripped of all but a single string, lacking the necessary accompaniment that made the guitar a guitar. He was a shell of a person, just a body and some thoughts.

The prisoner imagined purgatory was like being in prison, where you just laid there and thought about all the sins that kept you from the fuller existence of heaven, where you would be lucky enough to have shared experiences with all the other souls around you.

The closest thing he had to companionship was his own thoughts. He had no choice but to engage in an almost constant inner dialogue. He knew he was probably on the expressway to crazy town — maybe he had already arrived — but what choice did he have? He couldn’t just turn off the voice. It was his voice, after all. It was the only voice that gave his life any meaning anymore.

2

Working out in his cell helped. He did hundreds of push-ups, squats, and lunges every day. He laid on his stomach and did shoulder exercises by moving his arms in unison forward and backward like he was swimming the breast stroke. He did flutter kicks until his hip flexers burned and ached.

Even while he did these, the monologue continued. It sometimes became more focused and persistent while he worked out. It was like his mind was fighting to establish dominance over his physical being, jealously guarding its dominant role.

What the prisoner would not give to walk into a bar and sit with a beer and talk to every person who walked in. He’d ask them about their lives. He’d argue with them over religion. He’d tell them about his favorite bands. He’d listen to their stories. He’d probe the details of their lives and just soak in the existence of other humans.

Maybe he would even make a deep connection with someone, and take a conversation to that next level, where two people explore philosophical questions of love and loss and what it all means. The kind of conversation you can’t force, or create. The kind that just has to happen, usually after two people are well lubricated on some kind of consciousness-altering substance. He ached for such a connection and wondered if he would ever have that again.

3

Sposa arrived at his cell door, crisp and proper in his guard’s uniform, and told him to turn around. It was time for his one hour of outside time, in the yard. The prisoner did as instructed and Sposa walked him down to the yard. Instead of letting him out and going back inside, Sposa stayed outside and lit a cigarette. He leaned against the prison wall and smoked. He was a contradiction, that cigarette coupled with the exquisitely put-together uniform.

The prisoner did not start his walk around the yard as he customarily did. He stood a few feet from Sposa and stretched his body a bit.

“How are you today, Sposa?” the prisoner asked. The guard looked at him skeptically and the prisoner could see that he was debating on how to answer that question.

“I‘ve been better,” the guard answered between pulls on the cigarette. He looked down and showed no sign of giving a further explanation.

“Anything you want to talk about?” the prisoner asked, trying to mask the hope he felt that the guard would accept his offer to talk. The question hung there for a spell.

“Just second guessing my life choices, is all,” the guard said, after another long pull on the cigarette. “I’m not sure I’m where I’m supposed to be. Might be time for a change.”

“Yeah, I can understand that feeling,” the prisoner said, and both of them ignored the irony of the statement coming from the prisoner. “Why don’t you make a change?” the prisoner asked.

“It’s not that easy,” Sposa said. “You make choices in life and you got to live with ‘em to some degree. You can’t just up and throw everything away because you think you might be happier in some different circumstance, you know?”

“That’s true,” the prisoner said. “Let me ask you, what’s holding you back from making a change?”

“Well all of it, I ‘spose,” the guard said. “Life. I’m on a certain road, and pulling off to the side of that road has consequences. What if I change things and I’m worse off for it? What if I got it as good as I can get it, and I’m just seeing the grass on the other side of the fence as greener? I’m not one to make drastic changes. Plus, I’ve got a family and kids. Any changes affects them, too.”

“Is your family happy on the road you’re all on?” the prisoner asked. “Would they even be opposed to a change? Maybe if you talked to them about it, and suggested a new path they’d be excited for it.”

The guard snubbed out the remnants of the first cigarette and lit another. “We’ve talked about it before, but nothing serious. They depend on me, and this job, and they are pretty set in the life we have,” Sposa said. “A big change would disrupt their lives and nobody is keen on that when it’s not their choice, even if it’s ultimately better for ‘em. We are all kind of trapped in a cycle, in the rut we’ve worn in the ground. Breaking free of that comes with some fear and even some pain.”

“It does indeed,” the prisoner said. They both stared off at separate horizons for a handful of moments. The prisoner focused on a guard tower off to the south, manned by one lonely guard silhouetted against the afternoon sky. “Let me ask you this, then,” the prisoner said, turning back to the guard. “What would you do if you could make a change and everyone in your life was immune to the fear and pain it might cause them?”

Sposa thought about that while he stared at the ground. He answered, “Well I guess I’d do all those things I’ve always wanted to do. I’d build a race car from scratch. I’d take a month and hike the Appalachian Trail with my son. I’d travel to other countries and eat the local food. Maybe I’d meet a woman and fall in love again. Do all the things I might regret not having done when I’m on my deathbed looking back at my life. I’d damn sure not be here,” he said.

“That makes two of us,” the prisoner said.

“You regret that you smiled back at that woman?” the guard asked the prisoner. Everyone in town new the prisoner’s story.

“I suppose I don’t,” the prisoner said. “I’d smile back at her again, all things being the same. It’s what you do when a pretty girl smiles at you.”

“I guess you’d not react the same way to the man, though,” Sposa said.

“I guess I’d not.”

“Did you just snap, or what?” the guard asked.

“At the time, I was angry at something completely unrelated to the man and woman,” the prisoner said. “When he came at me, that anger took over and unleashed itself on the man. It was like I had no control over myself. My hands and feet just reacted despite myself. I was not in control. It’s a thin excuse, but I was a slave to my reaction. I do regret it. And not just because it got me here. I regret it for that man and his family. He didn’t deserve what I did to him.”

“Well, he shares some of the blame for how he reacted, in my opinion,” Sposa said. “You make a choice like that, and you have to live — or die — with the consequences. That’s just how life is. There’s nothing to be done about it. Just like for you, ending up here. You have to serve your time and live with what you did. There’s no getting around that. For any of us.”

“I guess there’s not,” the prisoner said. “I wonder what the woman thinks about it all, now. I think about her a lot. I think she probably knew something like that would happen one day, and I wonder if she is deep down relieved that her burden is lifted now. I wonder if she feels relief that someone finally took care of her problem for her. That’s what I hope, anyway. That maybe some kind of good came out of it, for her.”

“A woman like that, who’d be with a man like that, she probably blames herself for it all,” the guard said. “She’ll probably find her another man just like him.”

“That’s cynical, Sposa,” the prisoner said. “Surely we’re not all prisoners to our human foibles all the time. Maybe she can overcome ‘em. Maybe it’ll be a catalyst for change in her life.”

“Man, I been here too long, and seen too many of you pass through here to be that optimistic. People don’t change. Maybe they learn to control themselves better, or control their urges, but people are who they are. It’s a miracle we aren’t all out there living like cave men, hitting each other over the head, stealing each other’s women — and men — and living each day like it might be our last. As a species, we’re one step above the apes. We’re always on the verge of reverting back to our animal selves. It’s like we live a lie all the time that we are better than we are. We try to be, for sure, but that’s often a losing battle.”

“You do need a change, Sposa,” the prisoner answered back. “You need to get out there and find the good in yourself again. In humanity. You’ve been around the worst of us for too long with talk like that.”

Sposa chuckled at that. “Ain’t that the truth,” he said. “At least it makes me feel better about myself that I ain’t in here like one of you,” he said. “No offense.”

“None taken,” the prisoner said. “I’d think the same thing in your shoes.”

“Anyway, I got to head back in,” Sposa said. “I need to to make my rounds. You got 30 more minutes. Enjoy it while you can.”

“Will do,” the prisoner said. He moved off to start his walk. Sposa went back inside the prison.

4

Later that night, the prisoner was back in his cell. He was doing push-ups and replaying the conversation in his mind. He picked apart Sposa’s words. He picked apart his own. He critiqued his responses to the guard, and told himself what was good and what was bad. He thought of alternative words he could have used. He went over Sposa’s reactions and wondered what the guard was thinking about the conversation at that very moment. He wondered if Sposa was even thinking about it at all.

The prisoner finally laid down in his bed, as the overhead speaker announced lights out, and he resigned himself to another night as a captive.

Please Login to comment
avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

Thank you for the enjoyable read.

texj3
Member
texj3

Thank you for this Fru. I think that they are both prisoners. Sadly. One no longer has optionality and the other can no longer see that it exists. We imprison ourselves daily by our own choices. I used to call one of those things “Golden Handcuffs” where the constant desire for more takes precious life from ones’ existence. There will never be enough if that is all there is. Success is fantastic, but it is a prism of cuts made of God, family, community and wealth lowest. Cuts producing points of light. One cut, a myopic view of success, and… Read more »

Susan B
Member

J3…your comment is right on. Enjoyed it.

Susan B
Member

Thoroughly enjoyed it, Fru. Love these type of short stories that make me ponder over them. Keep ’em comin’, please.

%d bloggers like this: